Guest Post: I Hugged Dating Hello, Part III: Developing Emotional Intimacy

A guest post by Molly

Part III of An Open Letter to Joshua Harris

“Before two people are ready for the responsibility of commitment, they should content themselves with friendship and wait on deep emotional intimacy. Exercising this patience will not handicap them relationally. In friendship, they can practice the skills of relating, caring, and sharing their lives with other people. In friendship, they can observe other people’s characters and begin to see what they’ll one day want in their mates” (78-79).

Dear Josh,

I don’t know about our readers, but relating to my friends, caring for them, and sharing in the joys and sorrows of their lives sounds like a fairly good definition of emotional intimacy. I don’t draw a boundary between “friendship” and “emotional intimacy,” yet I Kissed Dating Goodbye assures me that “friendship is about something other than the two people in the relationship; intimacy is about each other. In a true friendship, something outside the two friends brings them together” (130). As we discussed earlier with using one’s trust in God to deny one’s active participation in building relationships, waiting to build emotional intimacy isn’t enough. You have to work on it. Emotional intimacy is the point in any relationship—between friends, or lovers, or a parent and child—where your attention is fixated on the two of you as a cohesive unit, a merging of interests, enthusiasm, and caring. In the case of potential mates, such a relationship can (and should!) happily exist before marriage, require continued nurturing throughout your lifetimes, and won’t be limited to just your future spouse. And while we agree on that point, Josh, you seem to see the development of emotional intimacy as a linear process that originates from an initial commitment. [1] I believe that the development of emotional intimacy and commitment works as a progressive cycle; you cannot have one without pursuing the other.

Emotional intimacy is necessary for commitment, and commitment triggers a desire to deepen emotional intimacy. [2] You quote C.S. Lewis as saying “we picture lovers face to face, but friends side by side. Their eyes look ahead” (ibid). I want friends (and perhaps eventually a spouse) who are equally comfortable looking me in the eye as we confide in each other, at my side for our next grand adventure, and at my back for whatever battles we face.

When you’re raised to expect a fairy tale…

They’re girls from my past,’ he answered sadly. ‘Anna, they don’t mean anything to me now…but I’ve given a part of my heart to each of them.’

‘I thought your heart was mine,’ she said.

‘It is, it is,’ he pleaded. ‘Everything that’s left is yours.’

A tear rolled down Anna’s cheek. Then she woke up. 

Anna told me about her dream in a letter. ‘When I awoke I felt so betrayed,’ she wrote. ‘But then I was struck with these sickening thoughts: How many men could line up next to me on my wedding day? How many times have I given my heart away in short-term relationships? Will I have anything left to give my future husband?’” (14).

Josh, I’ll start by giving some credit where it’s due: none of your books (to my knowledge) contain blatant references to the fairy-tale narrative so prevalent in Christian purity culture. Christine Gardner’s book Making Chastity Sexy contains a large section about female speakers at abstinence rallies (like True Love Waits) describing their courtship in details that echo a Disney script. The narrative usually details the female being swept off her feet by her “prince” on horseback [3] and galloping through the woods, being wooed with roses and poetry, and acquiring the “perfect dress,” [4] arriving at the ceremony by horse-drawn carriage, and culminating—in theory—in happily ever after. You don’t endorse the fairy tale. In fact, you cite your experience as a wedding videographer to remind us that this narrative is “beautiful and romantic, but it’s not reality” (166). And I thank you for that admission. You tell your readers that good marriages “require work, patience, self-discipline, sacrifice, and submission” (172). And—from my limited knowledge—that seems to be true.[5] While I appreciate your realism and your omission of the fairy tale narrative, I Kissed Dating Goodbye’s emphasis on remaining “emotionally pure” is far more troubling than daydreams of slaying dragons and climbing towers.

In the autumn of 2011, Libby recalled her experience with reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye as a teenager:

What I gleaned from Joshua Harris was that I should only ever have a relationship with one person, else I would be giving away pieces of my heart and would end up with marital discontent and problems. I should    marry the first man I loved, the first man I had a relationship with, for only then would my heart be intact and pure.

The concept of emotional purity has strong ties to the fairy tale narrative and our previous discussion of the problems inherent with trusting God to manage one’s social calendar. When young women are taught to believe that their “Prince Charming” will be (or has been) sent, delivered, and ordained by God, there is tremendous pressure to make the relationship work, even when it’s clearly not working because breaking up will result in not only a broken heart, but a heart that is no longer whole.

I’ve come to believe that purity culture views emotional intimacy as the most dangerous kind of relational intimacy—even more so than sexual intimacy— because our basic ability to feel affinity for another human being is seen as a constant threat to our bodily integrity and emotional well-being. You seem to think so, Josh, quoting Jeremiah 17:9—“the heart is wicked and deceitful; who can know it?” (179).

When I first read descriptions of failed relationships in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I thought I was reading the testimonies of teenagers rather than adults of marrying age because of the ubiquitous descriptions of emotional devastation following the breakup of a short-term relationship, and I cannot help but think that growing up with an emphasis on “emotional purity” could do anything but compound the pain surrounding the dissolution of those unions. (I mean, sure, breakups can be devastating regardless of the philosophy you were raised in; that’s part and parcel of being able to feel emotion.)

So let’s be clear about a few things, Josh:

If you are raised to believe that human relationships are condemned to imperfection and dissatisfaction because they cannot compare to God’s divine love, you’re not just setting high standards for your future lover; you are setting impossible standards. You are setting yourself and your partner up for failure.

If you are raised to expect that, from day one, your life’s partner has been chosen by God for you and will someday end up as your spouse, you have been, despite the well-meant intentions of others, set up for failure.

If you are raised to believe your motives are inherently selfish, that you are not in control of your own physical impulses, and that harboring a crush on another person skews your priorities so badly that it can damage your relationship with a God who is ever-loving and everlasting, you have been set up for failure.

I think the ideal of emotional purity is downright blasphemous because it assumes that love—which I’ll define as philia (friendship) striving for agape (the unconditional love attributed to the Divine) with a periodic scoop of eros (lust) thrown in for good measure, if you’re lucky—is a finite resource. The doctrine takes the patient, kind, humble, calm, protective force that 1 Corinthians 13 tells us surpasses even hope and faith in its strength and tells us to lock that force away, to keep our emotions under constant control, and to feel only the “right” things. Hillary McFarland, author of Quivering Daughters is correct to remind us that to “guard [one’s] heart is to protect its worth, not ignore it” (90). Josh, I think our hearts are big enough (and, with time, well-protected enough) that nothing can be truly, permanently “taken” from us when we give parts of it away. I think God designed it that way in order to give us the closest approximation of divine grace we could have without us catching fire from the inside out due to the sheer ferocity of that love [7]. No one “will know we are Christians by our love” if we insist there’s a finite limit to how many people that our love can touch. While I appreciate I Kissed Dating Goodbye’s emphasis on community service and volunteer work, Christian service is more than working with others. It is being willing to empathize with others, to share in their story, or, to strike a middle ground between our viewpoints, to exchange a piece one’s heart for a bit of someone else’s. Christ’s narrative is one of self-sacrifice and loss out of love, and it is an unfortunate—but very true—fact of the human condition that each relationship we build contains an inherent certainty of loss.

Purity culture doesn’t prepare people for loss beyond “’til death do us part,” yet it’s not just death that can part us. Distance, priorities, and maturation manage to do that just as easily and (possibly more) frequently. Kissing “dating” goodbye in exchange for “courtship” doesn’t prevent loss; it only (hypothetically) reduces the number of opportunities to experience loss.

And tomorrow—or whenever the next installment is posted—we’ll finish the discussion of emotional intimacy by talking about loss, healthy self-care, and the types of fear you find in relational intimacy.

Molly

—————

Gentle (and Not-So-Gentle) Readers: Come back soon for Part IV of I Hugged Dating Hello, where I will write about both the importance of self-care and the fear of sex evident in I Kissed Dating Goodbye~ Molly

—————

Notes:

[1] Emotional intimacy exists with more than just your spouse (thank God, or, if that’s not your thing, thank your brain chemistry!). As far as I Kissed Dating Goodbye goes, however, marriage is the most important human relationship someone can have because you’re sharing a person’s body as well as his or her heart (28-29).

[2] “Commitment” nearly almost always connotes eventual sexual intimacy in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, despite (to my mind) all friendships and family relationships being a form of devotion and commitment.

[3] A public safety announcement: Based on the description of this feat in Gardner’s book, the groom is more likely to suffer a spinal fracture than to be rewarded with an assent from his intended betrothed. Incorporating large, fast, spookable animals into your wedding proposal is a risky venture. Please don’t do it. Thank you.

[4] Women are also constantly depicted as lost and needing rescued while men (and their faithful steeds) are always capable of providing rescue.

[5] Aside from the “submission” part, which is a troublesome term we’ll be dealing with when we talk about intellectual intimacy.

[6] McFarland, Hillary, and Megan Lindsay. Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy. Austin, TX: DarkLight, 2010. Print.

[7] I mentioned in the comments of Part II my perceived necessity of using religiously-loaded language to debate religious conservatives, so for the sake of this not blowing up into a huge creationism/evolution debate:
This seminarian understands the creation accounts in Genesis to be beautiful etiological myths (that are especially pretty in Hebrew!)  She’s usually not too bothered by other Christians reading Genesis literally; on an individual level it’s kind of cute. And then it makes its way into public schools and a generation of kids in Louisiana is growing up learning we rode dinosaurs and dragons were real and Daenerys Targaryen is the rightful ruler of the Iron Throne and NO, STOP, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

—————

Molly grew up in southern Louisiana and, after spending college partially (emotionally and physically) frozen in Iowa, somehow ended up in seminary where she’s cuddling her inner demons by moonlight and wrestling her faith by daylight. She likes bellydance, historical combat, 80s cartoons, Pema Chodron, and wants to use her M.Div to found the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. She doesn’t have a blog yet, but maybe Libby will be generous enough to provide trackbacks when she does?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • ako

    When I think of my friendships, they tend to start with us gathering together around some third thing (an outside interest, similarity of circumstances, a shared goal, etc.), but as closeness develops, it becomes less “Gosh, he has a lot of interesting stories” or “She wants to get to know an American and I want someone to hang out with”, and more about that specific person. That person becoming someone I make time for, make an effort for, even if our goals diverge (as they almost inevitably do over time).

    I’m certainly happy to have the more casual friendships where it’s always about some outside interest, but if those were the only kind of friendships I was allowed to have, and I had to cut off any growing friendship if it hit the point where I was coming to care deeply for a person for their own sake, my life would be far poorer. (I’m not even sure how you’d do that. Would you start avoiding the person? Give yourself “No! Care less!” lectures?)

    It sounds like a very depressing way to live.

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    I feel like having one’s heart broken in a failed relationship does change us. In some cases there is a part of us that changes fundamentally. A death of some amount of innocence, a reluctance to imagine life is as simple as we thought, a fear of hurt repeating with the next person- but these things are necessary as part of living life. The more experiences I have to draw on, the better equipped I will be to know what I want in a lifelong partner. I’ll also be better equipped to give advice to others: friends and someday my kids. If someone wants to see that as giving away parts of my heart, fine. Once those parts are gone I can replace them with more mature parts. Parts that know the difference between “I forgive you for enticing that guy to hit on you” vs “Did that guy’s pass at you make you uncomfortable?” Of course the metaphor works better if you replace the word ‘heart’ with the word ‘brain’. Having lots of relationships will not slowly decrease my circulatory function. It will make me smarter about life, myself and others. Seems like an ok trade-off to me.

    • Molly

      Tracey, you hit the nail on the head!
      Rather than the purity culture that Harris advocates, I’ve come to view relationships as a rock tumbler. Rock tumbling is not a gentle process—there’re a lot of bumps, bruises, chipping away, wearing down, and other unpleasant-sounding verbs inside a rock tumbler. But at the end of this, the rock emerges polished, sparkling, matured, and only its strongest, most enduring qualities remain. I would like to think that with each partner I’ve had I was capable of offering a more refined version of myself to them.
      This is because what I have “left to give” my partner–to use Harris’s quote–isn’t “purity” but a maturation that could not have come about without previous experience. What we have “left to give” isn’t “everything that’s left” of our hearts. We are more than hearts–and I loved your contrast between hearts and brains because it’s SO TRUE. What we have to offer our partners is our truest—Harris has sort of ruined the word ‘purest’ for me—sense of self, revealed (with increasing trust) over time. We can offer our respect (in terms of both self-care and compassion for the other person.) We can offer our integrity (as a secondary moral compass to our partner’s, and that’s a reciprocal arrangement! :) ).
      That will be “what remains” of us, and I think it’s a pretty decent tip-off you’ve found a worthwhile partner if “what remains” seems more than enough for both of you.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Great post, Molly. :)

  • http://amandajustice.blogspot.com Amanda

    Molly, you are made of awesome — this is fabulous.

    IKDG was popular among the Campus Crusade for Christ group I was peripherally attached to while I was in college. I attended a state university and my roommate was an old friend from high school, but while I was down home going to community college (my parents felt very strongly that girls shouldn’t leave home right out of high school . . . somehow they forgot all this by the time my nine-years-younger sister went off to school) my soon-to-be roommate was rooming in the dorms with a very nice young woman who was in CCC. Eventually, my roommate was “saved” and thus began a very interesting period in life. I’ve always been a people-pleaser and wanted to fit in, and this wasn’t a far step from how I grew up so I sort-of bought in? Except not. I was already dating a guy I was sure I was going to marry (didn’t).

    And then I started dating the rabbi’s son, which was a whole new level of entertainment for me as the CCC crowd attempted to parse our relationship. Good times, LOL.

    Anyway, thanks for taking this on. It’s enlightening having a more in-depth look at the book so many of my close social circle were so torn by :)

  • Rae

    I think it also bears mentioning that in the popular evangelical paradigms about dating and sexuality, it’s supposedly sexual intimacy that men want, and emotional intimacy that women want. Which, coupled with the idea above, means that women’s desires can still be seen as more “dangerous” than men’s desires, and that provides grounds for yet further policing of women’s expressions of any sort of desire for men, and of course that all plays back into the “men are pursuers, women are meant to be pursued” trope.

    • Molly

      I cannot recall the precise quote, but Harris attempts to deconstruct this in I Kissed Dating Goodbye by saying something like “Men should stop being ‘hunters’ of women and instead be their ‘protectors.’” “Protectors” in this case, means exchanging a threatening demeanor for a patronizing one.
      Baby steps? Maybe?
      *gentle headdesk*

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